Thursday, September 24, 2020

Your Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Thursday, Sept. 24: Total Cases Close215K; UA Cases Push Pima Numbers Past Benchmark for Safe School Reopenings but Officials Say It’s Only Temporary; County Test Sites Open

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2020 at 9:34 AM

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With 566 new cases reported today, the number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases closed in on 216,000 as of Thursday, Sept. 24, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

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Pima County had seen 25,140 of the state’s 215,852 confirmed cases.

With 34 new deaths today, a total of 5,559 Arizonans had died after contracting COVID-19, including 617 deaths in Pima County, according to the Sept. 24 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases continues to decline from July peaks, although it has ticked upward over the last week. ADHS reported that as of Sept. 23, 565 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state. The number of hospitalized COVID patients peaked at 3,517 on July 13.

A total of 680 people visited emergency rooms on Sept. 23 with COVID symptoms, the lowest that number has been since June 3, when 638 people visited ERs. That number peaked at 2,008 on July 7.

A total of 122 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Sept. 23. The number of COVID patients in ICUs peaked at 970 on July 13.

On a week-by-week basis in Pima County, the number of positive COVID tests peaked the week ending July 4 with 2,396 cases, according to a Sept. 17 report from the Pima County Health Department. While a vocal minority continues to insist that masks do no good, the spread of the virus began to decline within weeks of Pima County’s mask mandate, as more people began wearing them in public, although the level of new cases has creeped back up in recent weeks with the return of UA students. For the week ending Aug. 29, 507 new cases were reported; for the week ending Sept. 5, a total of 667 cases were reported; for the week ending Sept. 12, 584 cases were reported. (Recent weeks are subject to revision.)

Deaths in Pima County are down from a peak of 55 in the week ending July 4 to 19 for the week ending Aug. 15, 13 in the week ending Aug. 22, 10 in the week ending Aug. 29 and three in the week ending Sept. 5. (As above, these numbers are subject to revision as recent deaths may not have been reported.)

Hospitalization peaked the week ending July 18 with 237 COVID patients admitted to Pima County hospitals. For the week ending Aug. 29, 38 COVID patients were admitted to Pima County hospitals; in the week ending Sept. 5, 24 patients were admitted to Pima County hospitals; and in the week ending Sept. 12, 16 patients were admitted. (Numbers are subject to revision.)

Campus cases push Pima County school benchmarks over the line

The increase in cases around the University of Arizona has pushed one of Pima County’s benchmarks for school reopening back into the red zone.

As of the week ending Sept. 6, Pima County no longer had fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 individuals or a decline in cases for two consecutive weeks.

The county still meets the other two benchmarks, two consecutive weeks with positivity below 7 percent and two consecutive weeks with hospital visits for COVID-like illness below 10 percent of all visits.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry anticipated the change in the benchmarks. In a Sept. 23 memo, Huckelberry said he expected “this uptick in cases will be temporary” because campus officials and the Pima County Board of Health have been acting to enact voluntary quarantines at greek houses and stay-at-home orders elsewhere in the campus area, as well as other steps such as increased testing and closing pools, gyms and common areas in off-campus housing.

UA keeps Phase 2 of reopening plan on pause, cracks down on partying students

Dozens of official actions were taken against students who violated COVID-19 safety precautions and hosted weekend social gatherings off-campus.

The university and the Tucson Police Department administered 20 red tags, 19 citations and 24 Code of Conduct violations over the weekend for student parties, according to UA President Robert C. Robbins, who shared the numbers during a press conference Monday.

Robbins and other university leaders point to this behavior as the reason COVID-19 is spreading among the community, not the essential in-person classes that are currently taking place.

Robbins described a party he witnessed last weekend that drew more than 300 college students. He said the gathering was dispersed and student sanctions resulted from the incident.

“This kind of behavior will negatively affect everyone,” he said.

Beginning in late August, the university has been tracking a gradual increase in COVID-19 prevalence among students. Robbins reported 79 new cases from 1,300 tests performed this past week, which puts them at a 6.1 percent positivity rate.

Over the previous 10 days, the university had a 11 percent positivity rate. When the state of Arizona went into lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a 10 percent positivity rate in testing.

While the drop to 6.1 percent is a noticeable improvement, Robbins said the university needs to stick with their heavy-handed mitigation strategy. The university will remain in an “only essential classes in person” phase for this upcoming week, which brings about 5,000 students to the campus for a traditional in-person learning experience.

Robbins reported that 100 students living on-campus were released from their isolation dorms this past week, and 324 remain. All students who chose to live on-campus this semester were required to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. Those who tested positive were put into isolation. The university has capacity for about 600 isolation dorms, and Robbins said they reached about 400 occupied isolation dorms during their peak.

Last week the university administration established a recommended 14-day quarantine for students living on and off campus within a specific geographical boundary. This was done in response to the uptick in new COVID-19 cases at the beginning of the semester.

The quarantine was applied to all students living between Sixth Avenue to the west, Campbell Avenue to the east, 10th Street to the south and Helen Street to the north.

Robbins said during the press conference that he believes the recommended quarantine is the cause of their decrease in COVID-19 cases over the past few days. He said the university and the local police will continue to respond to reports of student parties and some students will be expelled as a result of their actions.

“We’ve gone from begging, encouraging, now into the action phase where your choices will have consequences, and there will be individuals who are asked to leave the university," Robbins said. "It's that simple."

Robbins briefly mentioned a plan to test every student every day by January 2021, so that social gatherings, sports games and other activities can resume. He said it will be expensive to do that many tests, but the university is currently planning for that possibility in the spring.

Get a Flu Shot

The Arizona Department of Health Services is implementing an aggressive plan of action during this flu season by distributing free flu shots vaccination to all Arizonans through doctor’s offices, pharmacies, local health departments and community healthcare centers statewide.

The overlap with COVID produces greater challenges than a typical flu season and preventing the flu is more important than ever. More than 4,000 people were hospitalized with flu symptoms in Arizona last year and roughly 700 people die from the illness each year, according to state health officials.

The state will reimburse Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System providers offering free flu shots to AHCCCS members, while giving AHCCCS members a $10 gift card for their troubles after they've been vaccinated.

Get tested: Pima County has several testing centers, UA offering antibody testing

Pima County has three free testing centers with easy-to-schedule appointments—often with same-day availability—with results in 48 to 72 hours.

You’ll have a nasal swab test at the Kino Event Center, 2805 E. Ajo Way, and the Udall Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road. The center at the northside Ellie Towne Flowing Wells Community Center, 1660 W. Ruthrauff Road, involves a saliva test designed by ASU.

Schedule an appointment at pima.gov/covid19testing.

The centers are also tied into Pima County’s developing contact tracing operation, which aims to be able to identify potential clusters and warn people if they have been in contact with someone who is COVID-positive.

The University of Arizona’s antibody testing has been opened to all Arizonans as the state attempts to get a handle on how many people have been exposed to COVID-19 but were asymptomatic or otherwise did not get a test while they were ill.

To sign up for testing, visit https://covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu/home.

—with additional reporting from Kathleen B. Kunz, Austin Counts, Jeff Gardner and Mike Truelsen


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